Winterize The Plumbing and Heating In Your Home
“Winterize the house” is probably not the first thing on your to-do list at the arrival of fall. After all, we’re still having warm days. Before you know it, those soothing fall breezes will turn into frozen, pipe-bursting winter temperatures.
Now is the best time to get started on winterizing your home’s plumbing system. A big part of this is preventative maintenance, such as having your Water Heater, Furnace, or Heat Pump serviced and repairing any existing plumbing issues.
Farmers’ Almanac Advises to Winterize
The venerable Farmers’ Almanac offers sobering projections for this winter. The Farmer’s Almanac uses a time-tested, long-range formula and correctly predicted a frozen winter for the South West in the winter of 2020/2021. For the winter of 2021/2022, it predicts that Texas will have a very similar winter to last year, with freezing temperatures that will likely result in snow and ice.
Regardless of where you decide to get your weather forecast, keep winterizing at the top of your list. Forecasting weather is scientific but famously imprecise and forecasts can change rapidly. Start to winterize your home’s plumbing now and make sure your furnace or heat pump is in good working order.
Winterizing Your Home
As you prepare for winter, don’t overlook fall, which is the busiest time of year for plumbers across the United States. As families settle back into the regular school and work routine, we spend more time inside cooking, enjoying fireplaces, taking hotter showers, and running appliances.
Heating System Maintenance – Heating System maintenance should be done annually at a minimum. You rely on your furnace and/or heat pump for more than just comfort. Keeping your home at a temperature above freezing is important for protecting your plumbing too. Having a licensed HVAC specialist inspect and service your heating and HVAC system is a great first step to winterizing your home.
Fix Clogged Drains – Plumbers get more requests to fix clogged drains in the fall than any other season. If you have one sink or clogged drain line, it’s a safe bet the problem is isolated and can be fixed quickly.
If more than one sink or drain line is slow or stopped up, you may have a partially- or fully-clogged sewer line. Get a professional plumber for this, as fixing it may call for specialized equipment. Technicians can inspect visually with a fiber optic plumber’s camera inserted into the drain line to see exactly what they’re dealing with.
Check For Water Leaks – Leaking pipes and faucets are never a minor problem. Freezing weather makes for a worst-of-all-world scenario. Leaking joints or pinhole-size ruptures in plumbing lines can freeze up and cause significant damage, especially by flooding when they thaw. Often, a water leak is not evident, other than in the form of higher water bills or running water sounds in walls when no tap is open.
Check for Gas Leaks – Natural Gas is often used in home appliances such as Ovens/Stoves, Furnaces, and Water Heaters. Regular maintenance of these appliances should be done by a licensed plumber or heating specialist to minimize the danger.
Make sure you have a fully functioning Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector with working batteries. Natural Gas leaks can fill your home with Carbon Monoxide. According to the Mayo Clinic website, leaking carbon monoxide gas in your home can cause headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness or even death.
Natural gas leaks are extremely dangerous because even a small spark – such as static electricity – can cause a powerful explosion in an enclosed space. If you smell gas anywhere in or around your home, call for service immediately. This requires a licensed plumber. You can call the gas company first, but if they detect a leak they will shut off your gas and tell you to call a plumber. Open doors and windows to keep gas from building up inside and stay with friends or relatives nearby until the plumber arrives.
Water Heater Maintenance – Most of us treat water heaters as “out of sight, out of mind” until the day they fail to work. Then they demand our undivided attention. Regular water heater maintenance is the best way to prevent problems and prolong the life of your traditional tank heater or tankless water heater. There are some things you can handle DIY, such as draining the tank of sediment, but others are best left to a plumber, such as fixing or replacing the pressure shutoff valve.
A malfunctioning pop-off valve can cause the tank to explode, causing possible structural and water damage to your home. If your water heater isn’t getting the water warm enough, or if you hear it making noises, or the pilot light won’t stay lit, have it checked out by a water heater specialist. Fall is the best time to make sure your water heater is healthy and ready for its winter workout.
Insulate Exposed Water Lines – Check to see that water lines in crawl spaces, attics, garages, sheds, and other exposed areas are wrapped with insulating foam, as shown in this image. It’s available at most hardware stores.
Repair and Insulate Outdoor Faucets – If an outdoor faucet won’t shut off completely, it may only need a new washer, but in some cases, the hose bib (plumber-speak for outdoor faucet assembly) must be replaced. That is a job for a plumber. If you do it yourself you risk causing a water leak inside the wall, which requires cutting through the wall from the inside to repair it. Cover the faucet with a foam insulator, also available at hardware stores.
Disconnect Garden Hoses – When you’re finished using garden hoses and outdoor faucets for the season, disconnect and drain the hoses by unrolling them and re-winding them. Store inside. Do Not leave hoses connected to faucets in freezing weather.
Prepare Your Irrigation System – In warmer climates, many people don’t bother to blow the water from their sprinkler systems to winterize them because most freezes there are not deep or prolonged. If you follow the advice of the Farmers’ Almanac this year, you will want to do it. A plumber or irrigation specialist can do the job quickly and guarantee their work.
Sump Pumps – If your home is built on a slab it will not have a sump pump. Not all homes with basements have sump pumps, but homes with basements where the water level is above the basement level will have them to pump excess water away from the house and keep basements from flooding.
Because the sump pump is located in a basement, it should be safe from freezing. However, the discharge line, which carries water away from the house, should be insulated. The discharge pipe termination point must be kept clear of ice and other obstructions, too. Any blockage of the discharge pipe will cause water to back up and flood your basement.
Insulate Well Water Pumps – Make certain your water pump is well insulated, especially if it is housed in an uninsulated shed or box. Have a heat lamp ready for those extra cold days for added protection.
Know About Your Water Shutoff Valve – Locate the shutoff valve for your home so you can shut off the water supply to the house in event of a broken pipe or connection. Some homes have shutoff valves in the garage or basement. Homes built on slabs may have the shutoff valve underground outside, covered by a metal or plastic cover.
Caution: if you have not used the emergency shutoff or had it serviced recently, have a plumber do it now. These valves can develop plaque buildups that make it impossible to turn the handle. If you force it, you may break it. The alternative is to shut off the water at the water meter. In most cases, these are underground, too. They require a wrench to turn them, so have one ready. Have a plumber show you the location when you have your shutoff valve serviced, just in case.
Start to winterize your home now so you’ll never waste a minute worrying about your family’s safety and comfort this winter.